'Ted 2': A look at the past and future of the summer comedy

'Ted 2' arrives in a summer that's full of high-profile R-rated comedies. What has typically succeeded in the genre during the warm-weather months?

Universal Pictures/AP
'Ted 2' stars Mark Wahlberg.

“Ted 2,” the sequel to the Seth MacFarlane comedy about a talking teddy bear and his human sidekick (Mark Wahlberg), comes to theaters today.

Will it be as big a box office hit as the first movie? The first “Ted” film came out in 2012 and became the ninth-highest grossing movie of the year, according to the website Box Office Mojo.

It remains to be seen whether “Ted 2” will perform like the first film, but what made the first “Ted” a hit? Fans knew MacFarlane, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film, from the animated series “Family Guy,” and others may have come to the movie out of curiosity or were drawn by reviews that were middling but said that if you were looking for shocking humor, this was the place. 

This summer is actually somewhat unusual in that several R-rated comedies are on the schedule for the multiplex. Summer is currently the place for superhero films or other tentpoles – see this May’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or this month’s “Jurassic World” – or animated films like Pixar’s “Inside Out.” There are usually a few big-budget R-rated comedies like “Ted 2” released each summer, but not many that hit it big. Looking at the summer movie season as beginning on May 1 (Marvel certainly does, having released “Ultron” on that date), this summer has had “Hot Pursuit” (not R-rated, however) starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, and “Pitch Perfect 2,” which was also rated PG-13 and is something of a hybrid of its own – a comedy that will also bring in audience members who just want to hear a cappella covers. “Entourage” is also its own animal, being based off a TV show. The most prominent example is Melissa McCarthy’s comedy “Spy,” a rated-R venture that opened in June. 

In comparison, action-based tentpole movies released this summer so far have included “Ultron,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Tomorrowland,” and “San Andreas.” More comedies are coming, though, with “Magic Mike XXL,” Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” and the National Lampoon remake “Vacation.” There are so many coming out this summer that Relativity Studios recently moved its comedy “The Bronze” to October because of what Variety writer Brent Lang called an “onslaught” of R-rated comedies coming out this summer. 

This represents a shift. In recent years, the summer season has often been dominated by one or two hit comedies, but not many. According to Box Office Mojo, 2014 was the year of “Neighbors,” the comedy starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as a married couple living near a fraternity house, and “22 Jump Street,” the sequel to Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s adaptation of the “21” TV series. MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” McCarthy’s movie “Tammy,” and the comedies “Sex Tape,” “Let’s Be Cops,” and “Walk of Shame” fizzled. 

In 2013, McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s comedy “The Heat” was the big headline of the summer, as was “We’re the Millers,” starring “Saturday Night Live” actor Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. “This Is the End,” an apocalypse comedy with actors including Rogen and James Franco, did fairly well, and “The Hangover Part III” did okay, though not as well as the previous two films. But other comedies like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s “The Internship” tanked. 

2012 was the summer of “Ted” and “Magic Mike” and 2011 was “Bridesmaids” and “Horrible Bosses.” 2010 was the Will Ferrell comedy “The Other Guys.” 

With action-based movies like "Ultron" or "Jurassic," studios may figure that audiences are getting an all-in-one package – action, a little romance, and one-liners courtesy of wisecracking Robert Downey Jr. and Pratt, who cut his teeth in the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation." Why give audiences one genre when they can have many?

But this summer may be a perfect storm of proven comedy hitmakers all deciding to go with the summer for a release date. McCarthy worked summer magic with “The Heat” and “Bridesmaids,” while MacFarlane scored with “Ted.” The first “Magic Mike” was a hit and “Vacation” has been a successful franchise in decades past.

Will the amount of options mean some movies will gross less than they would have normally? It’s certainly possible. Studio executives may be watching this summer to see how they should plan in the future for warm-weather comedies.

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